118 years of Trust THE TRIBUNE

Sunday, November 15, 1998
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He gave a fillip to freedom struggle

By Satish K Kapoor

WHEN Socrates was served hemlock, Bruno burnt at the stake or Lala Lajpat Rai given lathi blows by the British police when he was leading a black flag demonstration against the all-white Simon Commission, the context was more or less the same. They had all defied authority, upheld the truth and refused to bow before tyrants.

Lala Lajpat Rai succumbed to his injuries exactly 60 years ago on November 17, 1928.

It is the leaven of sacrifice which ferments and keeps alive the national spirit, more so when a subject nation tries to break the shackles of an imperialist regime. The odour of sacrifice is explosive — it produces death-defying heroes.

Lala Lajpat Rai’s death was mourned by one and all. Mahatma Gandhi said: "Men like the Lala cannot die so long as the sun shines in the Indian sky. Lalaji means an institution. From his youth, he made of his country’s service, his religion... His nationalism was internationalism hence, his hold on the European mind.... His activities were multifarious .... It is impossible to think of a single public movement in which Lalaji was not be found. His love of service was insatiable.... His extreme frankness embarrassed his friends; it also confounded his critics. But he was incorrigible."

The kinetics of nationalism are moved by the fuel of sweat and blood. When courage and integrity withstand oppression, history is the natural offshoot. Lala Lajpat Rai’s death goaded revolutionaries like Bhagat Singh, Rajguru and Sukhdev to lay down their lives at the altar of freedom.

Like Adlai Stevenson, Lala Lajpat Rai believed that patriotism is not a short and frenzied outburst of emotion but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. He was convinced that India is one nation and that it belongs to all its inhabitants. To quote him:

"If Mother India is proud of Nanak, she is also proud of Chishti. If she had an Ashoka, she had an Akbar too. If she had a Chaitanya she had Kabir also; .... she can as well be proud of her Khusros, Faizs, Ghalibs, Zauqs, Farishtas and Gnimats as she can be of a Valmiki, Kalidasa, Tulsidas, Ram Das, Chand Nasin and Guru Gobind Singh".

Although an ardent admirer of Indian cultural heritage Lala Lajpat Rai was modern in his approach and outlook. In his book the Problems of National Education in India he wrote: "It will be sheer folly to replace the modern treatises on arithmetic, geometry, algebra, trigonometry, and kindred subjects by Lilavati or other books on these subjects found in Sanskrit language. Our Arthashastra may have been excellent in the good old times ... We will be cutting our nose to spite our faces if we fail to insist on the teaching of modern and up-to-date Arthashastra which controls and orders the economic life of the world."

Lala Lajpat Rai favoured a system of education which would inculcate higher values in an individual, awaken in him the desire to serve his motherland and yet help him to develop a global vision. He suggested that women should be so educated as to become self reliant; they were not to be treated as weaklings but as the embodiment of Shakti.

Lala Lajpat Rai was the first Indian nationalist to see the applicability of socialist ideas to the Indian situation. Although he did not subscribe to the theory of class war or dialectical materialism he showed utmost concern for the welfare of the depressed castes and classes, workers and peasants and other such groups. He regarded militarism and imperialism as the twin children of capitalism which supported each other.

The idea of replicating "the worm-eaten, decomposing, vicious and immoral" capitalist system of Europe into India appeared to him as reprehensible. He, however, realised that capital and labour in India must go side by side to ensure socio-economic development.

By establishing the Depressed Classes Education Society (1911), Servants of People Society (1921) and All- India Achhut Uddhar Committee (1924), Lala Lajpat Rai provided a great fillip to the movement of social reform. His humanitarianism came to the fore when he arranged help for the victims of famine during 1898-1900 and that of the Kangra earthquake in 1905.

Lala Lajpat Rai presided over the First Indian Trade Union Congress at Bombay in 1920, and was one of its founder members along with BP Wadia and Joseph Baptista. Its purpose was "to further the interests of Indian Labour in matters economic, social and political" and "to coordinate activities of all organisations".

In 1926, he represented Indian labourers at the 8th International Labour Conference held at Geneva and created great impression.

Lala Lajpat Rai’s creativity expressed itself in almost all walks of life. To spread the message of Swaraj, Swadeshi and social reform he founded three papers — Punjabee, Bande Matram (Urdu) and People (English) besides publishing a number of books and tracts. He instituted the Tilak School of Politics to keep alive the idea that political rights could not be achieved by speeches or resolutions but by sacrifice.

In the field of business, he promoted the growth of Punjab National Bank and sponsored Lakshmi Insurance Company Ltd. His contribution to the field of education was immense — the DAV College which grew under his patronage, and National College, Lahore, which he founded became nurseries of intellectuals, revolutionaries and reformers. Dwarka Das Library now housed in Chandigarh and Gulab Devi Hospital, Jalandhar, are among the living monuments of his work and vision.

"No man is truly great who is great only in his lifetime. The test of greatness is the page of history", wrote William Hazlitt. If this yardstick is applied to Lala Lajpat Rai, he emerges as a giant among historic personages.

Lala Lajpat Rai still lives in the hearts and minds of Indians because he died for a noble cause.

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